You may not know this, but that new Muppets movie is liberal brainwashing of children. No, the HIV-positive, starving or “Ralph Nader” muppet doesn’t appear in this film to turn your child pro-choice. Finding the bogeyman this time requires more of a leap.
Tex Richman (played by a devilish Chris Cooper)—yes, seriously—is the antagonist who wants to purchase the old studio Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the gang rehearsed at for years in L.A. to get at a ton of crude oil. Richman is a stodgy, emotionless (he can’t even do a maniacal laugh right), and ultimately evil-to-the-core bad guy you can love to hate.
The cable-news soothsayer behind this claim is Fox’s Follow the Money host Eric Bolling, who can be seen exasperatedly asking why liberals “hate” corporations. Another commentator asks why the bad guy couldn’t have been an Obama muppet and goes on a limb connecting everything from The Matrix to Cars 2 with Occupy Wall Street, rampant business taxes, and job loss.
I can’t believe I’m even saying this, but I’m not quite so certain The Muppets are playing politics here.
I’m not a good fiction writer (you can hear those two old codgers Statler and Waldorf yelling from the balcony, “You can say the same for your nonfiction” with a cymbal hit). But, I know the basics of storytelling. And in order to achieve a satisfying victory for the protagonist—and I’m talking basic, good v. evil stuff, not like As I Lay Dying—you need a working antagonist.
Your choice for a bad guy can be political (maybe we’ll make the bad guy an evil union boss instead of a conservative plumber from Ohio), but what matters is not the job, it’s the greed. It’s the corrupted soul. It’s the very thing children can always tell if you were to set up a jailhouse book-em style line up of good and bad characters: the bad guys just smell fishy.
A couple years ago, I re-watched Ghostbusters. What momentarily bugged me was that even though the two main characters (science nerds who can’t get funding from the Dean) are quintessential intellectual liberal heroes, their nemesis (not Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man, Gozer, or that green blob who keeps eating all the room service food) is actually a mere mortal: the jerk-off from the E.P.A. who wants to shut down the “containment” unit because it doesn’t meet environmental code.
Again, first time I saw this as a kid, it flashed by me. But now, as a knee-jerk protector of all things Progressive, I had a mini-heart-attack. Why did Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis choose an environmentalist? Don’t they see what they’re doing?! Indoctrinating a generation of kids to think ill of the government, environmental regulations, and liberals! AHHHHH!!! Now I’m really afraid!!
But then I caught my breath. It didn’t matter that this guy was an EPA dude. What mattered was that he was a royal jerk. He is a character foil to the laid-back coolness of Dr. Vinkman.
What we miss here is the deeper emotional currents in our stories that spread beyond partisan rubrics. Bolling and other complainers miss that The Muppets entire project uses metaphorical shells, out-front tropes that seem to encourage the audience not to dig too deeply into this stuff. (Did Bolling check out the scene where the Muppets travel by “map” across the Atlantic?)
Saying anything else—that this is liberal brainwashing—is playing politics with kids as the pawns. Look, I still am okay with the EPA even though I saw Ghostbusters as a kid, and I’m guessing 30 years from, some little twerp who just watched The Muppets will still be begging to drill for oil in ANWR. The only brain-washing I’m concerned with is coming from those real-life adult puppets on television.